By: Spiro Agnew
Christopher Ball
Born on November 9th, 1918, Spiro Agnew graduated
from both University of Baltimore Law School (1947)
and University of Maryland (1949) , passing the
Maryland Bar exam. He served both in WWII, where he
was discharged as a captain with a bronze star, and the
Korean War. He joined the Republican party in 1956
and became head chairman of the Baltimore County
Zoning Board of Appeals, then the governor of Maryland,
and then became the 39th vice president to Nixon.
This speech occurred on November 13, 1969, in
Des Moines, Iowa. It occurred after President
Nixon made a speech about Vietnam policy.
Nixon’s thoughts were almost instantaneously
criticized by the three major news stations at
that time (ABC, NBC, CBS). Furious about how
the viewers could not even decipher the meaning
of the speech before vicious critics attacked it,
Agnew made this speech about how dangerously
powerful the media is.
Although Spiro actively spoke out against pre-decided media
who manipulate viewers, the stations continued to stay the
same. The stations continued to immediately interject political
bias into the news. Studies had shown that many people found
the news to be more trustworthy than the paper. To this day, it
is extremely hard to find completely unbiased news that only
lets the audience decide.
The theme of this speech is about the power that
a small, unelected, unknown media group has,
which impacts the ways that viewers think
before the actual story can be understood first.
“When the President completed his address – an address, incidentally, that he
spent weeks in the preparation of – his words and policies were subjected to
instant analysis and querulous criticism. The audience of 70 million
Americans gathered to hear President of the United States was inherited by a
small band of network commentators and self-appointed analysts, the
majority of whom expressed in one way or another their hostility to what he
had to say.”
The entire audience gathered to hear the
President’s speech was given to biased,
opinionated newscasters who put their own
opinion forth before the audience could think
for themselves.
“At least 40 million Americans every night, it’s estimated, watch the network
news. Seven million of them view A.B.C., the remainder being divided between
N.B.C. and C.B.S. According to Harris polls and other studies, for millions of
Americans the networks are the sole source of national and world news. In Will
Roger’s observation, what you knew was what you read in the newspaper. Today
for growing millions of Americans, it’s what they see and hear on their television
At the time, the three major news stations
reached to a huge portion of the United States.
For some areas, it is the only source of any
news whatsoever, making the media a giant
“Nor is their power confined to the substantive. A raised eyebrow, an
inflection of the voice, a caustic remark dropped in the middle of a broadcast
can raise doubts in a million minds about the veracity of a public official or the
wisdom of a Government policy. One Federal Communications Commissioner
considers the powers of the networks equal to that of local, state, and Federal
Governments all combined. Certainly it represents a concentration of power
over American public opinion unknown in history.”
The newscasters do not even have to say anything to
change the minds of viewers. Just a facial expression can
cause doubts. This makes it a power that can even exceed
the government.
“Now I want to make myself perfectly clear. I’m not asking for
Government censorship or any other kind of censorship. I am asking
whether a form of censorship already exists when the news that 40
million Americans receive each night is determined by a handful of
men responsible only to their corporate employers and is filtered
through a handful of commentators who admit to their own set of
Spiro is making a point by saying that something should be
done about the media. The media is very manipulative,
and it affects many people. However, the people are
responsible to the employers and even admit to being
“Now, my friends, we’d never trust such power, as I’ve described over
public opinion in the hands of an elected Government. It’s time we
questioned it in the hands of a small unelected elite. The great
networks have dominated America’s airwaves for decades. The people
are entitled a full accounting their stewardship.”
We would not trust such a power in government,
yet it is in the hands of a small, unelected group.
The media has dominated, but it is up to the
viewers to decide for themselves.
“Now what do Americans know of the men who wield this power? Of the men who
produce and direct the network news, the nation knows practically nothing. Of the
commentators, most Americans know little other than that they reflect an urbane and
asstrive for sured presence seemingly well-informed on every important matter. We do
know that to a man these commentators and producers live and work in the
geographical and intellectual confines of Washington D.C., or New York City, the latter
of which James Reston terms the most unrepresentative community in the entire United
States. Both communities bask in their own provincialism, their own parochialism. We
can deduce that these men read the same newspapers. They draw their political and
social views from the same sources. Worse, they talk constantly to one another, thereby
providing artificial reinforcement to their shared viewpoints. Do they allow their biases
to influence the selection and presentation of the news? David Brinkley states
objectivity is impossible to normal human behavior. Rather, he says, we should strive
for fairness. Another anchorman on a network news show contends, and I quote: “You
can’t expunge all your private convictions just because you sit in a seat like this and a
camera starts to stare at you. I think your program has to reflect what your basic
feelings are. I’ll plead guilty to that.” Less than a week before the 1968 election, this
same commentator charged that President Nixon’s campaign commitments were no
more durable than campaign balloons.”
“Now every American has a right to disagree with the
President of the United States and to express publicly
that disagreement. But the President of the United
States has a right to communicate directly with the
people who elected him…”
“…and the people of this country have the right to make up their own minds and
form their own opinions about a Presidential address without having a
President’s words and thoughts characterized through the prejudices of hostile
critics before they can even be digested.”
-Spiro Agnew, “Television News Coverage”
- “The views of the majority of this fraternity do not – and I repeat, do
not – represent the views of America.”
- “Bad news drives out good news. The irrational is more
controversial than the rational.”
- “Television may have destroyed the old stereotypes, but has it not
created new ones in their places?”
- “How many marches and demonstrations would we have if the
marchers did not know that the ever-faithful TV cameras would be
there to record their antics for the next news show?”
- “They are challenged to turn their critical powers on themselves, to
direct their energy, their talent, and their conviction toward
improving the quality and objectivity of news presentation.”
- “Whether what I’ve said to you tonight will be hear and seen at all by
the nation is not my decision, it’s not your decision, it’s their

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